Many people who visit the National Zoo are pleasantly surprised to find out that the admission is FREE! Especially for families, it is a welcome relief, particularly when travel can be so expensive.
The 2,000 animals from 400 species are in both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Some animals are grouped together – such as birds and great apes - and others are displayed on their own. The National Zoo is a 163-acre zoological park and is part of The Rock Creek National Park and is owned by the Smithsonian Institute.
You can travel to the National Zoo by car or public transit – both Metro bus and Metro rail. The bus stops right at the zoo entrance and the Metro rail station is a short 3 block walk from the zoo.
One of the most unique things at the National Zoo is the Speedwell Conservation Carousel opened in November 2012 and is the newest exhibit at the zoo. It is a wooden carousel that has 56 custom-carved animals including giant pandas, Komodo dragons, and cheetahs and there are two handicap-accessible chariots. The carousel is divided into four habitats—aquatic, forest, grassland, and desert and is one of only a few solar-powered carousels in the world. Rides cost $3.00, which is very reasonable.
Be prepared to do a lot of walking during your visit, so wear comfy clothes and shoes. Weekdays are the best days with fewer crowds and early in the day or after 2 pm are the best times (the grounds open at 6:00 am and the buildings open at 10:00 am). Spring and summer are busier than fall and winter. Grab a map right inside the gates so you can plan to see everyone’s favorites. You should plan at least ½ a day for your visit.
There are some programs that run every day for you to enjoy that involve animal training, feeding demonstrations, elephant bathing and talks by the animal keepers. Check the daily schedule for times and locations.
A visit to the National Zoo while provide a very enjoyable time for everyone in the family but there is not enough space in this short article to talk about every exhibit, so here are some highlights:
THE GREAT CATS – This exhibit has adult African lions, seven lion cubs and two Sumatran tigers.
THE GREAT APE HOUSE – See the lowland gorillas and orangutans.
DAVID M. RUBENSTEIN FAMILY GIANT PANDA HABITAT – Two giant pandas—Mei Xiang and Tian Tian live at this exhibit. It was made to resemble the pandas' natural home in the rocky, lush grounds of China.
AMERICAN TRAIL – This is an exhibit of North American animals. It contains beavers, gray wolves river otters, California sea lions, brown pelicans, gray seals, and bald eagles.
THINK TANK - This exhibit is exactly what it says - a place to think about thinking. See the exhibits on orangutans, Sulawesi macaques and leaf-cutter ants, among others.